Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chicken Little

And now a welcome break from my opinions, as guest blogger, Zoe, airs and shares her views on Richard Curtis-penned Doctor Who episode:

Vincent And The Doctor has a very poignant, very touching message which has very little to do with the invisible bloodthirsty space chicken terrorising both the "mad" artist and Provencal ladies.

For those of us with loved ones in the creative industries, the sad truth is that recognition and popular success often has little to do with either talent or skill, and this is ultimately the story of Vincent Van Gogh, the tragic artist who, during his lifetime sold only one painting, to be "discovered" less than 20 years after his death (by self-inflicted gunshot wound at 37).

Whilst the causes of Vincent's real "madness" are far more complex than portrayed in the episode (his depressive moods were likely the downswings of bipolar disorder which he attempted to correct with nearly lethal doses of absinthe - a side effect of which is the tendency to see more yellowing tones or yellow spots - alternately, this may have been caused by one of his doctors treating his epilepsy with digitalis; visualising halos around objects as seen in The Starry Night would be consistent with lead poisoning from using lead based paints), we see through Amy's eyes how the story should have unfolded: once Vincent was shown that he was indeed a great and beloved painter - in the future - he was meant to cast aside self-doubt and and frustration at the small-mindedness of mid 19C society and happily paint into old age. And although the story did not show Vincent's all too quick spiral from elation at his eventual appreciation to punctual suicide, one cannot imagine it as separate from the crash-landing to the status quo, where drinks must be paid for, and anyone who considers buying a Van Gogh must surely be laughed out of town.

This sobering message aside, I urge anyone slaying their own invisible creative bloodthirsty chickens, or creative demons, take Amy's lesson. Somewhere, someday, someone will appreciate your work. Someone who makes the effort worthwhile. It may be someone you know, but someone who, because they are not a publisher or agent, doesn't have a ... valued opinion. Or it may be most of the world, but in the future. Or it might be most of the world, just in ten years' time.

If there is any lesson we can take from the Doctor, it is that things happen in their own time, not when we want them to. Don't let the invisible chicken win. Keep creating as though you know your work will be valuable one day, whether you will live to see it or not. It is the only way to live. Make Amy proud.

But as for that chicken...

The chicken has it's pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it's an engrossing way to get the Doctor and Amy into Vincent's life, to put him in danger, that just going for a visit with Amy's favourite painter wouldn't have done. The design was imaginative, but ridiculous, so I suppose that's a plus and a minus. And the big minus is in its demise. A little tear-jerker moment when they realise they've just murdered a, well, admittedly a killer alien monster, but a blind, frightened killer alien monster, who was just shredding local girls out of its own terror (which begs the question, then why didn't it respond to the Doctor speaking so kindly to it?). There's a moment of pathos when they all feel guilty, then the moment passes and there are no real consequences of what they obviously feel, in retrospect, was a rash act. And also, I hesitate to point out, no clean up. I mean, surely it is even more important to dispose of the body when the corpse is enormous and invisible. Imagine someone coming into the chapel and running into it?

So, in summary, a beautiful story about a complex and tortured man, stunning visuals, excellent use of Amy, extra 100 points for Bill Nighy's cameo, but no extra credit for the invisible bloodthirsty space chicken.



iCowboy said...

This isn't the first programme with bloodthirsty space chicken issues - okay it's the first with an actual bloodthirsty space chicken - but it's not the first to lack the confidence to do something completely different.

I'm particularly thinking of Buffy's 'The Body'* which for about 40 minutes is unlike anything I've ever seen on TV - it had almost nothing to do with the series, it went somewhere new and very dark and it was utterly extraordinary. The right at the end, the writers blinked, remembered they were writing for 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and stuck a vampire into the story. Watch it and the vampire adds nothing to the story, in fact it gets in the way.

Here, that's the space chicken - the writers clearly didn't feel they could get away with writing DW without including a monster. And it's a shame as it gets in the way of the story. Perhaps they should have had a bit more confidence in their story and their audience. I spoke to a colleague's 9 year old son who is a DW fanatic and he loved Vincent' story and even the paintings (which is a damn sight more than I ever have).

Still kudos for them trying to tell children about mental illness in a primetime programme. If one kid who suffers from it now knows more, or if someone thinks differently about these conditions it will all have been worth it.

Oh and shame on Richard Curtis being shamelessly manipulative in this story, it didn't affect me at all - there was just something in my eye - honest.

Now I'm off to watch some 'True Blood' as the perfect antidote ;)

* On the other hand I am constantly thinking of Buffy's body...

SAF said...

Good points. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode and applaud it for at least touching on mental illness. That's brave, but yes, even with its family audience in mind (and to be fair, Buffy's Body - I mean, Buffy's The Body is a far more mature script for a maturer audience) I do think it could have been braver.

The concept of a creature that only Van Gogh can see was great, but they might have done better to make it a Black Dog - or an alien creature that could feasibly be described as a Black Dog. It's a common metaphor for depression but more crucially in a Doctor Who story, if you are going to have a monster in a story of this nature you ideally want something genuinely ferocious and fearsome that can be taken as seriously as your subject matter.

That aside, it does earn major points in a number of other regards, including Bill Nighy and the guy who played Vincent. And on the strength of this I'd love to see another Richard Curtis Who episode, perhaps where he is allowed to be a little more courageous.